Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Best Christmas Songs of All-Time, December 1

As a holiday treat, Inside the Rock Era will present The Best Christmas Songs of All-Time*.  Rather than give them to you all at once, which would require a good deal of time to sort through, we are featuring six per day, beginning today and going through Christmas Day, for a total of 150 songs.  We aren't going to "count them down" or anything, because we want to feature some of the great songs at the start of the month as well.  So the 150 songs are well mixed in terms of quality. 

Plus, I tried to find at least one great version of the traditional songs to mix in with the secular songs.  So make sure you check out the blog every day to properly "get in the spirit" before you start your day.  Here are the first six:

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas"
 by Johnny Mathis

Meredith Wilson (who did music for The Music Man) wrote this song in 1951.  It was been recorded by several artists.  Johnny Mathis' version picked up popularity when it was included in the movie Home Alone 2:  Lost in New York, but it has always been a holiday favorite.  It is included because Mathis sings it joyfully.  The backing vocals, which alternate often with Mathis, add substantially to the song's appeal as well.
"Silent Night"
 by Boyz II Men

The song "Stille Nacht" with German lyrics was written by the priest Father Joseph Mohr with music from Franz Haver Gruber in Obendorf bei Salzburg, Austria. Second Bishop John Freeman Young of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida wrote the English translation that is often heard today.

There are several versions of this great song included--it perhaps is the Christmas song which most fits what should be the mood of the season. An amazing performance by Boyz II Men sung A Capella. The Boyz sing it with great reverence, which was the way it was written.
"Go Tell It on the Mountain"
 by Mahalia Jackson

The third song today is an African-American spiritual written by John Wesley Work, Jr. and dating back to at least 1865.

This version is included in The Best Christmas Songs of All-Time* because Mahalia sings it with great passion and conviction.  I believe she captures the original intent better than anyone else.

"Winter Wonderland"
 by the Eurythmics

This winter song has become a Christmas standard.  Richard B. Smith wrote the words after Central Park in his hometown of Honesdale, Pennsylvania was covered in snow.  Felix Bernard put the message to music.  

Over 150 artists have recorded the song.  One of the best versions is this one by the Eurythmics.  The musical accompaniment and the interlude from Annie Lennox of the duo add considerably to the song.  Winter can be drudgery, to be sure, but these aspects of the song convey the fun aspect of winter.
"Silver Bells"
 by Kenny G

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote this song that was first performed by Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell in 1950 for the movie The Lemon Drop Kid.

The song has been recorded by hundreds of artists despite the song being one of the newest of what we call Christmas standards.  This song is included because, as an instrumental, it is naturally unique from vocal versions.  Kenny G is one of the best artists for Christmas songs and his great sax playing adds much to this song.  His ad-libbing captures the celebratory nature of the song, ringing silver bells to celebrate the season.
"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"
 by the Carpenters

One of the most popular of the secular Christmas songs, this was written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie.  It was first sung on Eddie Cantor's radio show in November of 1934.  There were orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music the next day and 400,000 by Christmas.

Another of the top Christmas performers is the Carpenters.  They have several songs included among The 150 Best Christmas Songs of All-Time*.  Karen's voice in many ways sounds like Christmas; she definitely had a gift from God.

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